WASHINGTON — Israel accused the Lebanese Army Wednesday of tipping information to the Iranian-backed terror group Hezbollah and failing to allow UN peacekeepers to help thwart a tunnel-building operation on the country’s southern border.
The accusation came at a UN Security Council meeting that also saw the US demand that the international community condemn the Lebanese terror group over its alleged plans to infiltrate Israel via a series of border tunnels, violating a UN resolution meant to keep the potentially volatile frontier calm.
“The US has taken Hezbollah’s threats against Israel at face value,” said Rodney Hunter, minister counselor for Political Affairs for the US Mission to the UN. “It is high time the international community do so as well.”
Earlier this month, Israel launched an operation to find and destroy what it says are a series of tunnels snaking under the border.
The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon peacekeeping force on the frontier has confirmed the existence of four tunnels inside Israel, two of which it verified crossed the border from Lebanon, but on Wednesday Israel said UNIFIL had been unable to investigate the passages on the Lebanese side of the border.
“Israel gave UNIFIL precise information about the location of the tunnel,” Israeli ambassador to the UN Danny Danon said. “After UNIFIL told the Lebanese army, it was then stopped when it tried to reach the area. Sources within the Lebanese army informed Hezbollah about the information, which enabled the terrorist organization to conceal the tunnel’s operations and thwart Israel’s defensive actions.”
Danon presented new Israeli intelligence that he said showed the Lebanese army coordinating with Hezbollah by tipping them off about Israel’s anti-tunnel activities.
“Lebanese army officials are working for Hezbollah, while UNIFIL is not working to fulfill its mandate in the region in the necessary manner,” he added.
Danon showed an aerial photograph of a “private compound” in Kfar Kila, roughly 80 meters from the Blue Line, where an underground attack tunnel crossed the border into Israel, passing right by a UNIFIL security post.
Earlier in the session, UN Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix called revelations about Hezbollah’s tunnel digging to be “a matter of serious concern,” and said that UNIFIL has requested Lebanon disable any tunnel in violation of Resolution 1701.
UNIFIL has confirmed that the two tunnels reaching inside Israel violated UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which was unanimously agreed upon in 2006 after the 34-day Second Lebanon war. The resolution called for a complete halt to all hostilities between the sides.
Lebanon’s envoy to the United Nations, Amal Mudallali, accused Israel of violating Lebanon’s sovereignty through Air Force operations, which she claimed was a violation of Resolution 1701, as well.
“Just imagine if we were to call a Security Council meeting every time Israel violated Lebanon’s sovereignty,” she said, mocking Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s claims that Israel’s aerial surveillance of southern Lebanon was necessary for Israeli security. “What the prime minister says is self-defense, Lebanese feels as a threat.”
Mudallali added that Lebanon “is not interested in a new conflict. Lebanon remains committed to the complete implementation of Resolution 1701.”
With former US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley having finished her term a day earlier, Hunter represented the US at the special session.
During his address, he warned that this week’s revelations were only a preview of more violations that will be discovered by Hezbollah. “We can only speculate how many additional tunnels will be discovered,” he said.
Hunter, who said the US affirmed Israel’s right to defend itself, scolded Security Council members for not taking Hezbollah’s threat to Israel seriously enough.
“It is both regrettable and incomprehensible that some Council members dismiss the threat from Hezbollah. Hezbollah is a real threat,” he said. “What further proof do you need?”
Several council members joined Israel and the US in condemning the tunnels. Sweden said Hezbollah’s military capabilities pose a “clear risk” to regional stability. The Netherlands strongly condemned the tunnel activities as a “flagrant violation” of Israeli sovereignty and international law.
But the council took no further action and did not schedule a vote.
Israel has long called for a crackdown on the Iranian-backed Hezbollah, a heavily armed mini-army that is believed to possess an arsenal of some 150,000 rockets that can reach nearly all of Israel.
In recent years, Hezbollah has been bogged down in fighting on behalf of Bashar Assad’s government in Syria. But with that civil war winding down, Israeli security officials fear it is now refocusing its attention on Israel.
Though it appeared the Lebanese army was unaware of the Hezbollah tunnels, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at a press conference before the UN meeting that they know about it now and must neutralize them for their own country’s sake.
Israel holds the Lebanese government responsible for the actions of Hezbollah, which enjoys significant political power in Lebanon.
“The fact that the Lebanese army is doing nothing means that they are either unable or unwilling or both to do anything about this. But it doesn’t absolve Lebanon’s culpability,” he said. “My message is: Hezbollah is putting you in great jeopardy.”
Israel also accuses Hezbollah of using private homes to store weapons or other military activity. Netanyahu called these actions a “double war crime” since it threatened to harm Israeli civilians and put Lebanese civilians in danger as well.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.